"It seems that in the ageing process there is an increasing demand for unsaturated fatty acids and a Mediterranean diet of vegetable oils and in particular extra-virgin olive oil protects people from age-related cognitive decline," said Antonio Capurso of the University of Bari, who carried out the study on 300 people aged between 65 and 84.
The researchers believe the effect could be related to the role of fatty acids in maintaining the structural integrity of the brain, particularly those associated with memory.
As people get older there is a mild but definite deterioration in memory and intellectual ability that is not associated with any particular illness. Previous research showed people more highly educated have less risk of memory loss and decline in intellectual ability.
Dr Capurso and his research team found that increasing the uptake of monounsaturated fatty acids improved everyone's chances of maintaining memory and mental ability but was more noticeable in people with low education.
"High education levels also protect against age-related cognitive decline but high mono-unsaturated fatty acid intakes strongly protect people with two risk factors for decline - ageing and low education levels," said Dr Capurso. The research subjects had no previous known neurological or psychiatric diseases with cognitive impairment and performed both neuropsychological evaluations and dietary assessments.
Monounsaturated fatty acids can be found in numerous oils including olive, sesame, palm, corn, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed.
Fatty acids can also be found in pork, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, milk, butter, mackerel, herring and walnuts.Reuse content